by Lang Reynolds
This spring while preparing for the San Dimas and Redlands Classic Stage Races in California, I raced the Madera Stage race in Northern Cal with a few of my teammates. The race consisted of not one but TWO time trials in less than 24hrs, an industrial park crit, and one tough “road” race.
I call it a “road” race because half the course was on pavement so bad you could barely call it a road. Imagine a road subjected to a fortnight of carpet bombing followed by several hundred years of Metro bus service and you’ll have a rough idea of how bad this road was. Most of the dirt roads I’ve ridden were in better shape than this road. Of course, bike racers love “epic” courses and anything that resembles the storied Paris-Roubaix so the race is a reasonably popular one in NorCal.
The race started fast, and on the first time through the pave I could tell I was going to be in trouble. I’ll blame my lack of bodyweight for my troubles on the rough pavement, but there was also a stiff crosswind which made things hard if you weren’t at the very front of the pack. My teammate Kennett had beaten me to the punch and made it into the early break of the day, so luckily all we had to do was patrol the front and watch the GC leader’s team set tempo.
While the situation was tactically simple, I was still getting destroyed every time through the pave. The penultimate time, the race exploded at the front and before I knew it we were guttered out in the crosswind riding through two-foot-deep potholes. Guttering (when the race splits into echelons) is pretty rare in Washington road racing, but it happens when you get a strong cross-tailwind and motivated riders at the front of the pack.
These riders form a front echelon and everybody else is left fighting on the last possible inch of pavement (i.e. the GUTTER) in an attempt to salvage a tiny bit of draft from the rider in front and not get dropped. Experienced riders will recognize the situation and forma second echelon as soon as possible, limiting losses of time and pride.
Before I knew it, I was in the gutter and getting dropped, despite giving it everything I had. I tried to get a second echelon going but nobody was interested or capable of thinking straight enough to do so. After a few more minutes I was definitely dropped, riding in the carnage off the back of the pack.
I thought briefly about throwing in the towel and just riding easy to the finish, but decided to keep riding hard for a bit. I linked up with a few other guys who had been dropped and we started working well together. When we got off rough stuff and back on to the pavement, I could see we were making up time on the peloton.
After another few miles we were back in the pack. I could see that some attacks were going so I waited for a lull and then went right to the front and covered an attack. In addition to having Kennett up the road, we also had a teammate in 2nd place overall, so I wasn’t obligated to work and sat on the move.
My companions yelled at me a lot for sitting on, but with a teammate up the road and our GC guy in the pack, I had no reason to work. It certainly killed me inside to not work in the move, since it’s not my style to sit on, but I had to think of the team situation and wait for the move to play out a bit more before I could do anything else.
In the end, my group almost caught Kennett, who was sprinting for the win out of his small group. Out of respect, I didnt sprint the group I was with when we came to the line, but still finished in the top 10 on the day and both Kennett and I moved into the top 10 on the overall GC.
One of the (many) great things about road racing is that just about anything can happen, and this race was a great example of that. You can go from suffering and being dropped one minute to off the front chasing the win the next minute. As long as you keep riding hard and never give up, good things will happen. In some ways, it’s a metaphor for life itself.
Keep riding hard!